Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Leaving in Droves?, Really?

In a November of 2011 Fireside at Utah State University Elder Marlin K. Jensen, a General Authority Emeritus of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, engaged an attendee in the following conversation (Stephan Smoot.  “Reports of the Death of the Church are Greatly Exaggerated,” January 15, 2013)

Q: Has the Church seen the effects of Google on membership? Have there been…is the Church leadership aware of—and, I don’t know, maybe I’m overstating what’s going on, but it seems like the people I talk to about Church history are people who find out and leave, quickly—

A: Yes.

Q: Is the Church aware of that problem? Is there anything…I mean, the new manuals would help, I guess, “inoculation” within terms of youth would help. What about people who are already leaving in droves?

A: We are aware. Maybe I’ll just say this: You know what, I often get this question, “Do the brethren really know?” They do.

A cottage industry of writers misrepresenting this interchange has arisen.  Carrie Shefield (“Why Mormons flee their church,” June 17, 2012), makes such a misrepresentation.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Seminary Enrollment around the World

Seminary is an important institution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that teaches high school age students basic principles of the gospel through scripture study.  In many parts of the world, where membership is sparse, seminary acts as a social gathering place where youth can associate with others who share their commitment to the gospel.  In “A Model of Variables Affecting Missionaries Set Apart,” I demonstrate that the number of seminary students is an important variable in predicting the number of missionaries set apart in a given year.  I believe that the relationship is causal, that seminary strengthens testimonies and friendships and nurtures a desire to serve the Lord.  I don’t believe that a demographic variable such as the number of eighteen year-old young men and women who are members of the church would have the same statistical correlation as the number of seminary students.  This post is my first attempt to understand seminary from a geographic perspective. 
Seminary World Map

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Model of Variables Affecting Missionaries Set Apart



Many years have passed since I have last attempted a serious piece of econometric analysis and my skills are rusty, but with some effort, probably not enough, I have developed a model that measures the degree of influence of several variables on the number of young men and women who are set apart as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints annually.  The variables included war, recession, enrollment in seminary, and changes in missionary policy (see list below the post).  I used nothing more than simple ordinary least squares.  The model is not elegant, but it seemed to fit the data adequately.  For those interested, all the coefficients were significant at the 5% level or above and the adjusted R squared was .99.  I will use the model to attempt to answer two questions: what variables caused the reduction in missionaries set apart after the 2002 peak? and how many missionaries will be set apart as a result of lowering the age requirement for missionary service?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

July YouTube Update

13 July sisters vs elders

The decline in missionary calls posted to YouTube that began in May continued through July but the decline highlights the tremendous size of the surge.  Prior to President Monson’s October announcement, the number of calls would have been considered historic.  In “Temporary MTC opens, LDS Church projects 47 percent increase in missionaries,” Church officials reported that the number of missionaries serving would reach 85,000, a 47% increase from the prior year due in large part to the lowering of the age that missionaries can begin service.  As pictured in the graph, “Mission Calls Posted to YouTube,” missionary calls to men fell from 75 in June to 54 and calls to women fell from 62 to 58. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Seminary Enrollment and Missionary Service

At the end of my previous post (“Recession and Missionary Service”), I set an agenda for developing a supply function for missionaries.  I say supply function, but a supply function for labor involves a wage.  The earthly wage is negative, and the eternal wage is…difficult to quantify.  One point of the agenda was to find a demographic variable that would track “potential” missionaries.  I would have preferred the number of 19 year-olds by year, but I ended up with seminary enrollment.   It seems to do the job.  As I have done in previous posts, I report the data in two graphs which divide the time period spanning 1928 and 2010.  The number of missionaries set apart by year is shown as a blue and red line, the blue representing periods of peace, and the red, war.  The green line represents the number of students enrolled in seminary divided by 10.  I made the mathematical adjustment to highlight how the two lines moved together.  Between 1928 and 1960, when the minimum missionary age was set at 21 for young men and 23 for young women, the seminary variable was lagged two years.  When the age requirement was reduced in 1960, the lag was changed to one year.  That produced an extra year of seminary students and that year was divided between 1960, 1961 and 1962.  Recessions are shown as gray rectangles.   


The first graph, “Missionaries Set Apart, War, Recession and Demographics: 1929-1961,” visible shows the correlation between the number of missionaries set apart and the number of seminary students the population from which many missionaries come.  The impact of the Great Depression (1929-1933) is clearly visible as the number of seminary students rise but the number of missionaries fall as is the impact of both WWII and the Korean War.  The dramatic increase in missionary numbers from 1953 to 1954 was due to the institution of a quota system that allowed one missionary per ward to serve a mission prior, postponing eligibility for the draft.  The last notable event was the policy change announced on July 21, 1960 that reduced the age of missionary service.  This new policy significantly increased the number of missionary serving by increasing the number of young men and women available.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Recession and Missionary Service

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints experienced an 18.0% decline in the number of missionaries set apart over the two year period beginning in 2003.  Many observers attributed the decline to a policy change announced by Apostle M. Russell Ballard in the October 2002 General Conference that “raised the bar” or worthiness standards for missionary service (see Peggy Fletcher Stack. “Unintended consequence of church's 'raising the bar'” for example).  I doubted that increasing worthiness standards would dramatic reduce missionary numbers and began considering alternatives.  In addition to policy governing missionary service I thought war, recession and demographics would influence young men and women considering missionary service.  This post updates past work by adding recessions to the mix of war and Church missionary policy as determinants of missionary numbers.

My time frame begins in 1929 and ends in 2011.  In a series of four posts: A Second Negative Effect of the Vietnam War on Missionary Work, Many Were Drafted but Few Were Called: Missionary , The Impact of WWII and the Korean War on Missionary Work, and War and the Missionary Force, I examined some impacts of war on the missionary work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Simply stated, war reduces the number of missionaries set apart. 

To evaluate the simultaneous impact of policy, war and recession, I present data in two graphs that split the period.  Both graphs show the number of missionaries set apart each year as a line that is divided into a blue segment representing periods of peace and a red segment representing periods of war.  Also in the graph are gray rectangles representing periods of recession.  Data on recessions was provided by The National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee.  Finally, the graph contains black vertical lines on the dates that the Church made major policy announcements concerning missionary service.  A summary of important announcements and the dates they were make is provided below the main body of the post.